Sammy was a happy camper, a really great kid who was comfortable in his own body and knew how to have a good time with friends. However, a few months ago I was called into a meeting at his school for a consultation about some behavioral challenges he was exhibiting.
One of the chief complaints from his classroom teachers was that Sammy often needed a “special invitation” of his own when the class was asked to perform a task.
The scene typically went something like this: “Class, time to put on your coats…Sammy, time to put on your coat.”
“Class, time to put away the toys….Sammy, time to put away the blocks.”
This was frustrating for the teachers and uncomfortable for Sammy as well. And Sammy’s mom, who was present at the meeting, shared that she often has similar experiences at home.
So I suggested a simple intervention that works wonders at home and in school.
Cup your hands around your mouth to create a homemade megaphone so that your words are heard as foreground noise. Often, the reason a child has difficulty following directions is because he or she does not discriminate between “speechy,” or meaningful, sound versus background noise that can be filtered out.
Face the child when talking, preferably in close proximity.Don’t force eye contact but be available. The goal here is to be encouraging and non-threatening.
Break down a one-step directive into 3-4 parts. Remember to always start with a directive that tells the body where to move, such as “stand up” or “turn around.”
In a classroom setting, I’d suggest that you don’t single out the child by name because that can really make a child feel self-conscious. Instead, move closer to the child while following this procedure.
At home you can do something like this: Instead of saying “Put on your PJs,” say “Please turn around, go up the stairs, go into your room, take off your clothes, and put on your PJs.”
Or, “Sammy, please stand up, walk to the closet, and put on your coat.” All this should be said with your hands cupped around your mouth.
This intervention works like a charm.
Now, if only all behavioral challenges could be solved this easily!